Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, Nathan Cullen, was in town recently on a tour of his constituents and he spoke to Lakes District News about the local economy.
“I’m really happy with the leadership around the area right now. Both on the First Nations side, town council, and the regional district. I think people are looking and working to diversify the economy. I’m optimistic about the mill, I think the timber is there, but ultimately it’s a decision the [mill] owners have to make in challenging conditions. I think the shock and tragedy of the mill has sharpened everyone’s attention. The amount of mining exploration in the region is hopeful. Bringing those mines to fruition is always a challenge, but people believe in this place so they’re willing to fight to create jobs here. On a larger scale the region has to do a better job of promoting itself more broadly, and acting like a region.
What he means by this, Cullen said, is that with so many communities from the interior to the coast experiencing economic difficulties, the opportunity is ripe for leaders in the Northwest to sit down and plan and work and pull together on mutual interests.
“There’s a new willingness within the leadership in this part of the world to sit down in common cause more often. This is going to be the absolute ticket, because there’s so many communities in crisis and this is an opportunity to re-think the way we work together,” he said.
Cullen noted that distance to market and transportation has always been a challenge for the interior and said it would be a good time to take a second look at the railway corridor to China via Prince Rupert that runs through our backyard.
“When this line was first purposed seven or eight years ago, I did a little tour and really tried to encourage councils and business leaders to insist that there is access to that line, and that never came to be. My sense now on talking to people from Houston, Smithers, Burns Lake, Fort St. James is that [this is the time to be] making a unified pitch, making a real hard pitch at Canadian National Railways and at the government to say ‘give us access to this amazing resource, so that we can fill containers with things we make [prefab houses for instance] and put people to work,” he said. “Distance is always the problem. This line eliminates that distance but only if we have affordable and reliable access to it.”
From Burns Lake Cullen’s itinerary takes him to the Southside, Fort St. James, and Fraser Lake, before winding up at the Telkwa Barbeque on Labour Day weekend. He plans to be back in Ottawa for the fall session in a couple of weeks.